Lauren Billys has been riding for Puerto Rico since 2010, having previously represented the USA.
“In 2009 the FEI made a big push to get lots of small Latin American countries at championships like this,” she says, citing success in the fact Ecuador and Chile also have individuals and Brazil fields a strong team at the Rio Olympics.
“I found out my heritage gave me the opportunity to ride for Puerto Rico — a lot of my family live in Puerto Rico, in Bayamón — so I went and jumped in.
“The opening ceremony here was so cool — the fireworks were so bright you could see people lit up like it was daytime.
“It’s inspiring to see lots of other really small countries. We only have 41 athletes, but they are 41 strong athletes and it’s great to see other countries in that position too. Most of my Puero Rican team-mates have no idea what I do — they are table tennis or judo players — but it’s interesting to hear about the sacrifices they have made to be here.”
Lauren says the support she has had on the way to Rio has been overwhelming.
“I’ve had so many sweet messages, I’ve had to turn my phone off,” she says. “I feel surrounded by love even though I’m with people I don’t know.”
Lauren’s ride Castle Larchfield Purdy was produced in Britain by Emma Castle, who won a European CIC2* team gold medal on him in 2011. He came to California in 2013 and was competed by amateur rider Elizabeth Tempkin until she decided to focus on showjumping and Lauren picked up the ride in 2014. He is now owned by a syndicate, for half of whom it is a first venture into event horse ownership.
“The reason I bought him is I feel fearless when I ride him,” says Lauren. “If I’m nervous, he doesn’t hear that and he squeals coming out of the start box — he loves this sport.
“Emma has reached out to me in the last few months and I’m so glad she did that and thankful she produced him and gave him the background we need to be here.”
The pair scored 56 in the eventing dressage today for equal 39th position with 16 horses still to go and now progress to the cross-country tomorrow.